In Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s second season, our Good Good Space Kids become Even Gooder Space Kids.
Whenever something like Voltron: Legendary Defender comes around, I have this stupid voice in my head that likes to tell me I shouldn’t watch it, because it’s a reboot for fans of a source material I know nothing about. I’ve always been aware of Voltron as a thing, but always thought they were little more than a Power Rangers knockoff that happened to gain some steam, up until a few months ago.
If you think as I thought, I’m going to stop you right there. Then I’m going to hand you my laptop and queue up Netflix, because there is no excuse you can possibly make for not giving Voltron: Legendary Defender a try.
As a brief word for newcomers, the shakedown is this. In the near future, four teenagers training at a an academy for space pilots and soldiers are brought together by the sudden appearance of Shiro, a star cadet who went missing on a mission a couple years prior. The first episode is a cascade of mystery and discovery that culminates in the discovery of a huge, sentient mechanical lion sleeping below the earth, which carries our five young heroes into space, all the way to a refuge planet countless star systems away. The group of teenagers are told by a mysterious pair of aliens that they have been chosen as the new Paladins, defenders of the galaxy tied to the five mechanical lions that come together to form the mighty Voltron.
It’s a bit to take in, but let’s assume you’re able to take it all par for the course and find out what’s going on in Voltron-land. This review will be spoiler-free for season 2 of Voltron: Legendary Defender, but some season 1 spoilers will follow. Proceed with caution.
Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s first season left off with a cliffhanger, as a climactic season finale battle sent the group through a wormhole and split them up. Things pick up immediately, with Pidge stranded in a field of space debris, Keith and Shiro crashed on a desolate moon, and Lance and Hunk missing in action. Princess Allura and Coran are still stuck in the wormhole, and a whole mess of timespace shenanigans ensues. The opening couple of episodes set a welcoming tone for the season; even while Team Voltron is trying to reunite, dialogue and interactions remind us why it’s so pleasant to see them all again, from the hot-headed Keith to the grounded and growly-stomached Hunk.
The plot action of Voltron: Legendary Defender’s second season moves along in a way perfectly connected to the first. Once our squad of Good Good Lion Kids has reunited, the season leans into a beautifully-focused saga of plans to take down Zarkon and his empire once and for all. More importantly, each character continues to have their own personal struggle going on, and we see some really stunning reveals as things go on. Pidge continues to be the most perfect ray of sunshine in the show, and Hunk is as loveable and oft-comedic as ever, but their arcs in the first season give them room to take a bit of a backseat in the second. Shiro’s struggle to connect more purely with the Black Lion, revelations about Keith’s uncertain past, and the development of rebel groups within and outside the ranks of the Galra empire itself all take precedence.
What continues to impress about Voltron: Legendary Defender and the handling of its characters is that they still all feel like main characters. Shrio, Pidge, Lance, Hunk, Keith, Allura and even Coran all get moments to shine and grow. Even if some get more plot-relevant screen time, it ever feels like an imbalance in the great scheme of things. A common criticism I’ve found of the original Voltron was its predominantly one-note cast of characters. It’s a commendable achievement that each character has been revitalized and given new depth, all while also staying true to the source. There are still occasional jokes that fall a bit flat – mostly with Lance’s one-note horndog moments towards an increasingly indifferent Princess Allura – but not enough to stop the cast from feeling exactly like what Allura herself calls them at one point; a family. Even Lord Zarkon, the Ganondorf-esque villain and commander of the Galra army, shows something a little more interesting than before in his own single-minded determination. We get to see in just what ways the great emperor could, in theory, be his own undoing. The cast of voice actors, like Adventure Time‘s Jeremy Shada and The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun, put in as stellar a performance as ever.
Dreamworks and Studio Mir’s animation shines as much as it ever has, too. Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s signature visual style flows, pops, and sparkles like starlight. Something I’ve loved about both seasons of the show is how well it cloaks in its own use of CGI, in the animation of the lions and several larger-scale enemies. The utilization of CG animation in 2D-animated shows has been a bit of a problem child among animation studios for over a decade, especially in Japanese animation, and Voltron: Legendary Defender stands as a pillar of how far we’ve come in that regard. Every forming of Voltron, complete with those cool shots of each lion clicking together from the inside out, is laden with detail, and blends right in with everything else. We’re not quite to the point where the CGI is 100% cloaked, a fact mostly due to the way CGI moves, but we’re at a good point to not care.
The visual prowess of Voltron: Legendary Defender doesn’t stop there, either. One small complaint I had with the first season was how many alien races we saw that looked kind of similar, and kept Voltron‘s interstellar universe from coming off as as large in scale as it could have. In season 2, we meet numerous new races of creatures, and although some things stick around for the sake of consistent visual style, a lot of new ideas clearly went into realizing the life of the galaxy. From alluring merpeople to a race of tartigrade-inspired folk living on a suitably hostile world, a lot of care has gone into the full realization of exactly who and what the Voltron gang is protecting. There are also more loving homages for those familiar with animation classics of the last couple decades, including one episode rife with visual reference to the Evangelion rebuild films.
Voltron: Legendary Defender has action. It has high-quality storytelling, an endearing cast, and incredibly well-detailed visions of a distinct galaxy. Possibly the strongest force at its disposal, though, is the absolute and utter cleverness of its climax. It’s telling that the showrunners, Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, previously did a lot of work of Legend of Korra and, even moreso, Avatar: The Last Airbender before it. The second half of season 2 moves towards a conclusion in the same way that the first half of Airbender‘s third season did: with a simultaneous sense of momentum and dread. Season 2 of Voltron sees a lot of conversation about legacies, inheritance, and what comes next if things go wrong; or, maybe even more uncertain, if they go right. To weave around spoilers as delicately as possible, let’s just say that the conclusive momentum here serves the same purpose that the aforementioned Airbender two-parter did, and everything that comes after the climax feels all the more heavy. Season 1’s cliffhanger has nothing on what viewers of this second season have in store. I was lucky enough to have watched season 1 only a couple months ago, Frankly, I have no idea how I’m going to stand waiting a year for the eventual season 3. The high-stakes final battle of the season is spirited, heart-pumping, and genuinely intense. Surprises wait where one might not expect. It made me feel genuinely proud of this collection of fictional characters.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is an inspiration, now as much as ever. Season 2 was jam-packed with revelations and twists, and plays off the grounds the first season laid with almost uncanny perfection. It’s also damn gorgeous, reminding us, as the original cartoons once did, of what great things American and Japanese animation studios can do when they combine forces and both form the head. Seasons 1 and 2 of Voltron: Legendary Defender can be found for streaming on Netflix.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5